The Conasauga Judicial Circuit team members gathered Tuesday morning to unveil the new Veterans Court in front of the Veterans Memorial monument outside the Whitfield County Courthouse.
The Whitfield County Board of Commissioners on April 13 unanimously approved a grant from the State of Georgia establishing a Veterans Accountability Court for the local circuit.
As Chairman Lynn Laughter called for a vote, she said, “We ought to all be seen as trying to help our veterans. They have gotten the short end of the stick for a long time.”
Superior Court Judge Cindy Morris will preside over the Veterans Accountability Court that will serve the citizens of Whitfield and Murray counties.
“Our community has always honored the service of our veterans,” Judge Morris said. “We appreciate the Whitfield County Commissioners’ support in accepting the Veterans Court grant. We especially value the commitment of Chairman Lyn Laughter and County Administrator Mark Gibson in the effort.”
Veterans Court is a project the Superior Court has been pursuing for some time, Judge Morris said, and they have already seen tremendous enthusiasm and support from the citizens of the circuit.
“We are happy to say today our dream of a Veterans Court has become a reality,” the judge said.
Veterans Court is funded through a grant awarded from the Office of the Governor’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council under the Council of Accountability Court Judges grant program.
Accountability courts such as Veterans Court return a savings of approximately $27 per dollar invested due to alleviating court and incarceration costs, officials said. The grant provides the amount of $44,493 for the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020. A new grant request has already been made for fiscal year 2021, which starts July 1.
Officials said, "The Conasauga Veterans Accountability Court will be geared toward addressing criminal defendants whose behavior is driven by substance abuse and mental health issues that may be related to experiences during their service to the United States." Veteran status with the United States military will be a requirement.
The Chattanooga VA Clinic is chartered to serve the northwest Georgia area. Teresa Worthington, who serves as Veterans Justice Outreach for the VA, noted that the new partnership with Veterans Court will help link under-served veterans in the community to the federal services they are entitled to receive.
"Veterans Court will be focused on helping participants modify their behavior by assuring that they attend required counseling sessions, take their prescribed psychiatric medications, remain free from illegal and non-prescribed drugs and attend any veteran’s hospital appointments," officials said.
Veterans Court will be working closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs and local American Legions and will be supported by the volunteer services of local veterans who will be recruited and trained to serve as mentors for court participants. Veterans interested in serving as mentors may contact Todd Breitmann at 706-281-4822 or tbreitmann@whitfieldcountyga. com.
The Northwest Georgia Community Foundation will serve as the 501(c)(3) administrator for programs to support participants of Veterans Court.
Veterans Court will also keep the program’s participants accountable for their actions by imposing sanctions if they fail to comply with treatment or if they become engaged in further criminal activity. The participants will appear before Judge Morris every other week so that she can monitor their progress. She will be assisted by the Veterans Court team including public defenders, prosecutors, law enforcement, probation officers and treatment providers.
Lt. Col. Breitmann, who will be the new Veterans Court coordinator, retired as a lieutenant colonel after 24 years in the United States Air Force. During his service, Lt. Col. Breitmann managed the USAF’s largest flying training program, led and managed air defense operations after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, coordinated with the Coast Guard for search and rescue operations after Hurricane Katrina and planned and executed air defense for the president of the United States. He holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology and after his military career service served as coordinator for the Conasauga Circuit Drug Court.
The Veterans Court Team members are Judge Cindy Morris, Treatment Court Administrator Jennifer Richardson, Coordinator Todd Breitmann, Clinical Case Manager Leah Ozment, Surveillance Officer Ray Figg, Assistant District Attorney Geoff Bard, Assistant Public Defender Paul “P.J.” Hemmann, Jeremy McMillan of the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Department, Tim Bell of the Murray County Sheriff’s Department, Christopher Tucker of the Dalton Police Department, State Probation Officer Leonard Jackson, Misdemeanor Probation Officer Candice Groce, Teresa Worthington from Veterans Justice Outreach of the Veterans Administration, Veteran Service Officer Kelly Johnson from the Georgia Department of Veterans Affairs and Erin Wilder from GA HOPE. Lt. Col. Breitmann will also serve as mentor coordinator.